Costa Rica is a country of stunning natural beauty, with lush greenery at its core and idyllic palm-fringed beaches lining its two sunsoaked coasts.
It is also a land of volcanoes, with tens of both live and dormant giants dotted across the landscape. But out of all of them, it is the perfect cone of Arenal that is most prominently featured in the postcards and guidebooks.
However, as you can experience with Grand American Adventures, there is much more to this picture-perfect volcano than just good looks, with the surrounding area an outdoor enthusiast’s idea of heaven.
The town of La Fortuna, which lives in the shadow of the mighty peak, is a hotbed for guided excursions, from horse rides in the forest surrounding Arenal to windsurfing on the enormous Lake Arenal. Other popular activities you can book in the La Fortuna area to get the heart pumping include zip lining, canyoning and white-water rafting.
However, you don’t need a tour guide to take to one of the footpaths that criss-cross the lower slopes of the volcano itself and see first hand the evidence of its past activity. Up until a few years ago, Arenal would put on nightly lava shows, but even though these have stopped, the enormous blackened boulders strewn across the hillside hint at this mighty mountain’s potential.
It last erupted spectacularly in the late 90s, but its most devastating episode was in July 1968, when it buried three small villages on the now-bare western flanks of the volcano, killing many of the residents. Surviving El Borio on the tree-lined eastern side was henceforth renamed ‘La Fortuna’ (‘The Fortunate’) in recognition of its lucky escape.
Although this threat constantly looms over them, for now the locals enjoy the benefits of the lush volcanic landscape around them, which brings in the tourists to swim in the therapeutic thermal pools at one of the town’s luxury spas and enjoy the majestic bird life that inhabits the trees, including keel-billed toucans and hummingbirds.
Indeed, when the sun is setting over the hills and the birds are chirping, it’s hard to imagine a more serene place, and even more difficult to envisage what Arenal is capable of. Perhaps one day, the locals hope, this natural wonder might go the same way as its dormant neighbour Cerro Chato, which today can be climbed by energetic tourists, whose reward is catching a glimpse of its turquoise crater lake. But for now, the summit of Arenal is strictly off limits to hikers until scientists can be sure it has fallen silent.
All in all, you’ll be hard pressed to find a more magnificent setting for an adventure of a lifetime, surrounded by lush forest harbouring all manner of beautiful creatures, towered over by the most picturesque of mountains and afforded the luxury to select from a plethora of exciting activities to do while you’re there – it’s arguably the finest place to visit in all of Costa Rica.
Indeed, if you’re touring the rest of the country, even as you sit on one of the Pacific coast’s white-sand beaches or search for quetzals in the cloud forests of Monteverde, you’ll probably be thinking of the adventures you enjoyed in La Fortuna and Arenal.